Takeaways from YY Social: How digital disruption is transforming Bangladesh’s Agriculture

YY Goshti hosted the ‘YY Social: Disrupting Agriculture’ in partnership with EMK Center on April 26,2018 in Dhaka. The event explored whether digital technologies will enable the third agricultural revolution and bring about the next big productivity gain, and how to catalyze this revolution in Bangladesh. The interactive event took place on April 26, 2018 in EMK Centre, Dhaka which brought together agribusiness leaders, entrepreneurs, civil society advocates, researchers and investors to gauge the scale of the task and work out how best to lead and encourage co-operation on the path to progress in agriculture utilizing the power of technology. The smartest minds at the intersection of technology and agriculture converged at the YY Socials ‘ Disrupting Agriculture’ to tackle critical challenges and showcase the latest innovations for farmers, investors and stakeholders of Bangladesh’s agricultural systems. This event brought insights and innovation from the best in the field. From biotech to precision farming, to big data’s role in feeding a population of 160 billion, our prominent speakers have explored the topics at the heart of technology, entrepreneurialism and agriculture.

Here are top 5 takeaways from ‘YY Social: Disrupting Agriculture’:

  1. Digital disruption creates limitless opportunities

Digital technologies can provide value to farmers at two levels. Through on-farm connectivity, farmers can monitor the status of equipment, livestock, and water levels. Then, as the farm is connected to the outside world, farmers can access advisors, markets, climate information, and best practices. It was really exciting to see what the future of Australian agriculture can look like. Multiple speakers went beyond buzzwords like Big Data, IoT, and Machine Learning to explain specific use cases where technology can deliver value to farmers. In particular, Tafsir M Awal, Director, Multimode Group showed some pretty compelling videos of transforming farming operations.

Other speakers highlighted current and potential applications, such as:
• on-farm 3D printing for cheap, quick access to maintenance equipment
• ability to stream “how to” videos or video conference with a trusted advisor
• real-time decision support, like taking a photo of a struggling plant, uploading it with some diagnostic information, and quickly receiving an analysis that suggests potential causes and optimal next steps
• unlocking funding sources by leveraging on-farm data to provide transparency about working capital resources.

  1. Long way to go in reaping the benefits to everyone

Despite the huge potential, thus far the digital revolution has over promised and under delivered for Bangladesh’s farmers. Huge technological challenges remain unsolved, such as interoperability –enabling hardware devices and software platforms across providers to work with one another — infrastructure, and connectivity.  The concept of on-farm real time decision support seems like a science fiction movie when touted problems such as call drop. Prominent telecommunication companies of country has introduced agricultural value-added service (Agri VAS)  different services related to cultivation together in order to aid the farmers to find all the relevant information. One such service is not the only source of information for most users, 66% of users reported their mobile as one of the two main sources of information leading them to make changes in their practices, compared to 42% of non-users. Digital technologies show promise, but we have a long way to go to realize their full potential.

  1. Data ownership and privacy concerns abound

Trust in technology remains a huge issue and barrier to adoption. This is increasingly important in a world where more data is produced and used in new and unforeseen ways. There is widespread agreement that farmers should own their own data. The issue may be subtler, requiring language that is more specific and transparent. However, it’s not yet clear how to best manage who has control of the data, what can be done with them, and how to distribute the value.

  1. Adoption of disruptive technologies itself requires innovative approaches

Organizational and societal changes are also necessary. For example, an innovation ecosystem that incentivizes Bangladeshi AgTech entrepreneurs is necessary. Bangladesh lacks both commercialization pathways out of universities, as well as opportunities for early-stage businesses to attract capital. Business model innovation is also necessary; even the best technologies need paying customers to become sustainable businesses. Solutions developed for the Bangladesh context will be critical, as successful businesses in other countries cannot easily apply their technologies to Bangladeshi agriculture — corn or wheat are subsidiary crop in Bangladesh, for example contrast to American or EU market.

Increasing adoption of digital technologies will also require innovative approaches. Farmers are not clear on the value proposition of many of these technologies, and don’t feel that they are addressing real problems. Including, but evolving, the role of the trusted advisor — such as an agronomist — may be one solution. Farmers are more likely to trust innovations that augment expertise, rather than replace it. Including farmers in an iterative development process can also help increase adoption.

  1. Public discourse has to evolve in disrupting agriculture

Bangladesh needs to prepare the next generation of farmers, agronomists, and Agtech entrepreneurs for an agriculture system in which digital technologies are ubiquitous. Academicians should collaborate on interdisciplinary research with agronomists, producers, technology developers, and entrepreneurs to mirror needs of farmers. Bangladeshi students also need training in foundational skills. Data analysis and software engineering, specifically, as well as a basis in STEM more generally, will be necessary. The agriculture industry will continue to remain critically important for Bangladesh’s economy as it experiences its third revolution. The education system needs to prepare future generations to work effectively with technology, nature, and each other. While media should create awareness among farmers for using disruptive technologies to improve farming practice and yields.